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Casablanca, Morocco, 1941, the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbour is only
days away - but of course nobody knows that yet. Rick (Humphrey Bogart), a
cynic who was once an idealist runs a bar in what is at the time still
neutral territory where pretty much everybody meets, from Nazi bigwigs to
resistance fighters to German fugitives. Rick though stays out of politics
and out of anybody else's affairs, obviously trying to forget
One day, Ugarte (Peter Lorre), a war profiteer whom he despises, asks
Rick to hide some letters of transit - the only ticket that can get you
out of Casablanca - for him, and Rick agrees ... and only a short time
later, Ugarte is shot by the authorites - which are commanded by turncoat
Captain Renault (Claude Rains), but German Major Strasser (Conrad Weidt)
uses his influence to put the police basically under German rule - for
having stolen the letters of transit from a German courier. Rick, who has
the papers now, won't give them up of course ...
Eventually, famed Resistance fighter Victor Laszlo (Paul Henreid)
arrives in Casablanca with his wife Ilsa Lund (Ingrid Bergman) - who is
exactly the woman whom Rick tried to forget after she stood him up in
Paris when they were just about to flee from the invading Nazis. What's
worse though is that Victor and Ilsa are in need of Ugarte's letters of
transit - and after Ilsa has broken his heart, Rick is reluctant to do her
any favour at all.
Ilsa, who has been married before her affair with Rick and only hooked
up with Rick after she thought Victor dead (and left him when she learned
he was still alive), tries everything to get the letters from Rick, but at
first it seems nothing works ... until the two fall in love again, and all
of a sudden the priorities change and Rick and Ilsa are thinking about
leaving the country together and forget about Victor - and to that end,
Rick even sells his bar to the shady Signor Ferrari (Sydney Greenstreet).
And he makes a deal with Renault to lure Victor into a trap, since it's
only Victor, not him or Ilsa the Nazis want.
However, when Rick's trap springs, it springs backwards - at least from
Renault's point of view: Actually, Rick's conscience and idealism had
gotten the better of him, and now he tries to set every wheel in motion to
make Victor and Ilsa leave Casablanca together, even if it breaks his
heart once more, and he needs Renault as an escort to the local airport.,
even if he has to escort them at gunpoint.
At the airplane, Rick bids Ilsa farewell in the rain, in one of film
history's most famous monologues, but when Ilsa and Victor are almost off
the ground, Major Strasser, who has been called in by Renault in one of
Rick's careless moments, arrives and tries to stop the airplane - upon
which Rick has to shoot him. Seeing the romantic and idealist in Rick,
Renault has a change of heart - especially since he never liked the
Germans anyway - and decides not to give Rick away but instead join him in
joining the foreign legion ...
In writing, Casablanca seems to be little more than a cheesy
propaganda movie, and of course it's true, of course Casablanca has
its moments of kitsch and it quite simply is a propaganda movie -
but that aside it's also one of the greatest melodramas of cinema history,
for quite a few reasons: First of all, there's teh cast, Humphrey Bogart
and Ingrid Bergman make one of the quintessential screen lovers,
their chemistry being just right, and they are supported by a great
ensemble cast, with actors like Claude Rains, Paul Henreid, Conrad Veidt,
Peter Lorre and Sydney Greenstreet just being unable to give a less than
excellent performance as it is. Then there's the script that carefully
balances the romance and crime-and-espionage elements of the story to make
the film neither too cheesy nor to sensationalist, with extremely
well-written dialogue of course helping things along. And then there's of
course the direction which might not be exactly inventive, but it's
elegant and it makes Casablanca come to life despite the fact that it's
mainly (quite obvious) studio sets.
And what more can I say than that all this adds up to a great
movie-melodrama which even cynics like me are able to like.